Longoria 'awed' by Derby experience
Rookie's stay in contest short, but creates lasting memories
NEW YORK -- Evan Longoria tried to warn us. He tried to warn the whole baseball world, in fact, while accepting an invitation to Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby last week, but making certain to note that he's "terrible at this."
Call it modesty, or call it nerves. Either way, Longoria was wrong. He launched three home runs in his Derby debut -- an impressive feat for any rookie -- although that wasn't quite enough for the Rays third baseman to advance beyond the first round.
"I was actually better than I expected," Longoria said. "I'm not a very good batting-practice hitter as it is, and with the whole ton of people, no batting cage, it doesn't make it any easier."
Longoria became the sixth rookie to compete in a Home Run Derby, and the first since Nomar Garciaparra -- who hit zero home runs -- in 1997. He earned an invitation only after drawing more than nine million votes in the Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote competition, securing the last opening on the American League roster.
He didn't know any of this, of course, until two days before the All-Star break, when he received a phone invitation to the Derby.
Naturally, he accepted. And naturally, he would accept it again.
"I would love to do it next year," Longoria said. "I think I'd be a lot more relaxed, and if I got a chance to, hopefully I could practice a little bit."
His problem in this Derby came early, when, after hitting an opposite-field home run on the second pitch he saw, he sent a series of pops, liners and grounders toward the left side of the field. The outs piled up in a hurry, before Longoria took a few pitches to slow the pace.
It worked. With three outs remaining, Longoria launched back-to-back home runs to the upper deck in left field, the longest of which landed 446 feet away. His three home runs averaged 419 feet, but placed him third among the competition's first three hitters. When Chase Utley of the Phillies came up next and drilled five home runs, Longoria had fallen to fourth place. And when Lance Berkman of the Astros hit his fourth home run, Longoria was officially eliminated.
Perhaps that much was a blessing in disguise. His early exit gave Longoria a spectator's perspective both on Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, who smacked a record 28 homers in the Derby's first round, and on Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who eventually won.
Compared to most other hitters, Longoria's three home runs were somewhat respectable. Compared to Hamilton's output, they were not much at all.
"I think everybody was in awe tonight about [Hamilton's] display," Longoria said. "We all had a good time, and I definitely was in some kind of awe. Being in the clubhouse with all these superstars was awesome."
|"I had a great time out there. Just to be in the whole atmosphere, it was a life experience -- something that I'll enjoy for the rest of my life."|
|-- Evan Longoria|
And that, for Longoria, was the whole point. He didn't expect to win -- though he had very much hoped to -- but he was still quite anxious to hit ... nervous, even. So though he was proud of his three home runs when he finished, he cared more about this opportunity to meet his fellow All-Stars.
That makes sense, because Longoria is only 22 years old. He wasn't even on the Rays' Opening Day roster, and he has only 16 career homers to his credit. Longoria just purchased his first house, and he's spent the better part of this All-star break trolling for items to put in the memorabilia room. Though a Home Run Derby trophy would have been a nice centerpiece, it will have to wait.
And it might not have to wait long. The next time Longoria participates in a Home Run Derby, he will have the experience. The next time, he likely won't be "terrible." He likely won't be "bad," either. He might be "decent," "good" or perhaps even "great."
Or perhaps he already is, three home runs or not.
"I had a great time out there," Longoria said. "Just to be in the whole atmosphere, it was a life experience -- something that I'll enjoy for the rest of my life."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.